Armenian wine

Armenian wine in ancient manuscripts: drinking Armenian wine - Gospel Akhtamar 1391
Mystery of Armenian wine

Armenian wine symbolizes both Jesus blood and revival of Humanity.
According to Holy Bible, the Humanity granted it’s second birth in Armenia, on Ararat Mountain. "Noah, the tiller of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk, and he uncovered himself within the tent." (Genesis 9:20-21)

Given that Armenia is the birthplace of wine!

History of Armenian Wine

A group of archaeologists and multi-discipline scientists from Armenia, USA and other countries have unearthed an ancient winery in a spectacular large cave near Areni village, 7 km far from Noravank monastery, south Armenia. This old winery has been used for stomping grapes, fermentation and storage vessels, drinking cups, and withered grape vines, skins, and seeds.

According to Armenian and US scientists these findings are the oldest and the most reliable evidence of wine production on the Planet dating back 6100 years. It is the first time that a complete archaeological site of wine production is discovered.

Archaeological data and legends transferred through written testimony affirm that already in the III millennium BC wine was in important presence in ancient Armenia's economic and social life. Akkadian cuneiform inscriptions of the III millennium BC describe how wine in special vessels was transported via the Euphrates from the Taurus Mountains to the Mesopotamian city of Mari. Herodotus also recounts to us in detail how those shipments were made from Armenia to Babylon much later.

Chemical analysis of the deposits in the inner walls of vessels excavated in one of the Middle Bronze Age (XIX - XVIII centuries BC) tombs near the town of Sissian in modern-day Armenia showed that those vessels were used to store wine. Vessels intended for wine, along with grape pedicles, were discovered in a II millennia BC layer in the Korucutepe settlement in the Southwestern part of the Armenian Highland. Important tableware items, such as pitchers, cups, drinking bowls, often adorned with images of grape bunches, were found in various monuments in the territory of Armenia, dating back to the end of the second and first quarter of the I millennia BC.

Ancient irrigation systems discovered in various regions of the Armenian Highland also attest to advanced land cultivation practices and especially developed horticulture and viticulture. The Mokhrablour settlement in the Ararat Valley, dated first half of the III millennium BC, had a vast artificial reservoir to store water. A powerful irrigation grid of the II to I millennia BC was discovered on the slopes of Mount Aragats. This grid with small dams and canals accumulated and channeled water downhill to irrigate the fields of the Ararat Valley. The vital significance attached to irrigation water was affirmed by ornate ritual megaliths, also known as dragon-stones, erected at water sources in the mountains of Aragats, Vardenis, Gegham and Syunik. These are fish-shaped or rectangular stelae, embellished with the fleece imagery of a sacrificial bull or ram, from the mouths of which 'live' water typically gushed out.

Armenian wine has often symbolized the notion of the source of life during prosperity rites and rituals. This is further confirmed by animal or shoe-shaped vessels, rhytons various kernoses (libaon vases), most of which were undoubtedly used for wine of 'the sacred gush'. It is significant that they were often decorated with motifs symbolizing eternity, as well as images of celestial bodies. Undeniably these ritual-festive vessels in their shape, ornamentation and content symbolize sacral life-giving elements.

Applied and decorative art items discovered at various monuments best illustrate the significance of the Armenian wine in the public perception of the ancient Armenian Highland. In this respect a silver goblet from the Karashamb Royal Burial Vault, dated to the XXII - XXI centuries BC is significant. The second belt of images on the gobet contains a depiction of a feast, where the king sits on the throne, with two tables before him laden with various dishes, goblets and pitchers. The king drinks from a bowl, while the cupbearer stands in attendance, holding a pitcher, and two more waiters holding trays with more food are on standby.

Other episodes depicted on the goblet (battle scenes, the taking of prisoners, punishing the defeated, etc.) unambiguously indicate that this is a feast of a victory and that the king celebrates his triumph with the Armenian wine. In other tombs of the same Treghk-Vanadzor culture (XXII - XVIII centuries BC) there are depictions of a funerary rite involving cremation, which in many details coincides with the Hittite royal burial ritual, as well as the burials of Patroclus and Hector, described by Herodotus. In the course of these rites the fire was put out and the ashes were flooded by wine poured from gold and silver bowls or chalices. It is beyond doubt that the golden and silver bowls and goblets discovered in the Treghk-Vanadzor burials had served the same purpose. There were also numerous luxury items made of precious metals and decorated with images symbolizing grape bunches. In particular, a grape bunch is the principal pattern on a number of gold items discovered in the rich tombs in Lchashen and Lori Berd of the XV - XIV centuries BC. Moreover, grape bunch-shaped pendants made of gold were discovered in the Tolors tomb, dated to the end of the II millennium BC.

According to archaeological evidence agriculture in Armenia in the V-IV millennia BC had developed through artificial irrigation, in view of the mountainous terrain the patterns for the use of water resources In Armenia developed unlike those In Mesopotamia. Water from the spring thaw was put to use In the pre-alplne regions by storing it In hollows on mountalntops, slopes and feet that were connected through a network of furrows. This system of water management created favorable conditions for farming In the mountain valleys and pre-alplne regions, particularly conducive for the development of horticulture and viticulture. Such powerful water distribution grids were discovered on ML Aragats and in the Gegham range.

In the royal cuneiform inscriptions of the Van Kingdom (Urartu), which emerged and reached advanced developmental stages on the Armenian Highland in the IX - VII centuries BC, there are numerous references to the planting of vineyards and related rituals, sacrificing Armenian wine, building wine cellars and storing wine. These inscriptions bear evidence to the fact that viticulture and winemaking played a special role in the sate (royal) economy. An inscription dated to the IX century BC describes a vineyard belonging to Tariri, the daughter of King Menua. In the VIII century BC chronicle of Sardur, discovered in Van, the list of taxes collected includes reference to the equivalent of 15,000 liters of the Armenian wine. In another inscription of King Menua there is a reference to the building of a wine cellar in the Manazkert region with the capacity of approxi¬mately 21,000 liters. Another big storeroom, holding 20 to 35 big karases* for wine, was unearthed during archaeological excavations in Toprakh-Kale in the central region of the Urartian Kingdom.

The kings of Van, once enthroned, took care to plant vineyards in their name, considering this no less a feat than military conquests. "I dug four canals, planted vineyards and gardens, and performed feats" is just one of numerous such references, this one by king Argishti I in the VIII century BC. According to Armenian historiographers Queen Semiramis, mourning Ara's death, "planted numerous fruitful gardens and vineyards" by Lake Van.

In the VIII century BC Urartian kings conquered the territories north of the river Araxes and appended the annexed lands to their realm, including the fertile Ararat Valley. They built powerful irrigation systems, boosting agriculture and viticulture. A most remarkable memorial inscription by king Rusa II, discovered in Zvartnots, tells us about digging an irrigation canal and planting vineyards. The canal has survived to our days.

Archaeological studies of late Urartian monuments confirm the claims made in cuneiform inscriptions concerning viticulture and winemaking. The major administrative/economic center of Teyshebaini (Karmir Blour), founded in the second half of the VII century BC, collected and stockpiled vast taxes from the neighboring areas, including the Armenian wine. Archaeological excavations in Karmir Blour and Arin Berd have discovered spacious Armenian wine cellars with gigantic karases and pitchers. Eight wine cellars were unearthed in Teyshebaini only, holding hundreds of karases. These are big structures, the entire space of which was occupied by rows of wine karases, half recessed into the ground. One of the largest cellars was more than 300 square meters and contained 82 karases. Cuneiform and hieroglyphic characters on the upper rim of these karases indicated their capacity. The Urartian units of measure for volume were 'akarki'* (about 240 liters) and 'terusi'* (0.10 to 0.11 akarki). The average volume of the karases is 900 liters. The excavations in Karmir Blour have unearthed about 400 huge karases, which were used to store approximately 37,000 decaliters of wine. Such an amount of the Armenian wine could only be produced from about 300 hectares of vineyards. The position of Karmir Blour in the Ararat Valley, a traditional center of developed viticulture, allowed for such a scale of production through the use of irrigation canals from the rivers Araxes and Kasagh.

The Urartians left the Armenian wine in the karases under the sun and maintained that heat was conducive for the fermentation of the Armenian wine. This is affirmed by many medieval manuscripts, which instruct that in areas with cold climate the karases had to be dug in the ground, whereas in warm climates this was deemed unnecessary. To improve the quality of the Armenian wine and to accelerate fermentation it was advised to immerse burning hot rocks in it.

Ancient authors share remarkable information about winemaking and viticulture in the territory of Armenia. The works of Xenophon, Herodotus and Strabo contain interesting testimony on the proliferation of winemaking and viticulture. Armenian wine as a commercial commodity was 1 made in ancient Armenia in large quantities and it was exported to the global markets. Wine from the mountainous areas of Asia Minor was especially appreciated. It is not incidental that wine from the land of Armens' was in great demand in the times of Herodotus. He tells us that red wine made in Armenia was transported by merchants in karases down the rivers Euphrates and Tigris to Babylon. "In Armenia to the northward of Assyria, Babylonians cut withies to make the frames, and let the current take them downstream... They mostly transported Phoenician wine in clay vessels."    

The advanced state of winemaking in Armenia in the Urartian and ancient periods is attested to by the existence of structures and utensils related to it in archaeological finds. Utensils for preserving and using the Armenian wine are of great inter¬est; clay karases of varying sizes, pitchers, goblets, rhytons, ritual and utility items of bronze, silverware and glassware were all discovered during excavations at various sites. Bronze bowls found in Karmir Blour, bearing the names of Urartiah kings, as well as silver rhytons of the Early Armenian period, found in Erebouni, are of exceptional value.

A wine press discovered in the capital of ancient Armenia, Armavir, and dated the III to I centuries BC, is particularly worth mentioning. A fragment of the floor, smoothly plastered for pressing wine, has survived. The tarapan discovered next to it is remarkable. It is made of red tuff stone and has a classical shape with furrows, a spout and a stone goub to collect the must. A comparison of this press with similar structures that have survived from later periods allows us to reconstruct certain details of this important pro¬duction facility. The plastered floor was used to crush grapes with one's feet and separate the must. This basin was called aragast. The must then flowed out from a hole in the wall. The absence of a traditional pit implies that the must should have been collected into a broad-rimmed vessel. What remained of the crushed grape mass was further squeezed on the tarapan-slab under a press.
A III century BC wine press, discovered in the basement of royal quarters in the fortress of Garni, is important for the understanding of ancient winemaking in Armenia. Its inclining floor, where the grapes were pressed, is smoothly plastered with lime mortar. The must flowed by gravity pull through a clay pipe into a vessel standing at a lower altitude in the neighboring room.

Excavations in the Late Hellenistic layers of another Armenian capital, Dvin, produced a segment-shaped high-rimmed tarapan with rounded edges and a furrow, which was used to press the balance of the must from already crushed grapes. Tarapans were also discovered in the neighboring villages of Hnaberd, Kaghtsrashen and Verin Artashat, which used to be within the city limits of ancient Dvin, proving that Dvin was a center of viticulture in the Hellenic period.

Another remarkable collection of stone tarapans (incidentally, the root of this word is the Armenian verb 'tarapel', to suffer) was found in the province of Vayots Dzor, which means that viticulture and winemaking was widespread, the fertile basin of the river Arpa as early as in the ancient period.

Viticulture and winemaking underwent significant development in the Middle Ages. Abundant archaeological artifacts discovered at various monuments confirm this claim. They are, closely related to the making, preserving and using of wine. These include wine presses, wine; cellars, karases of various sizes (sometimes labeled for volume), numerous metal, clay or glass-made pitchers, cups, glasses and goblets. The significance of wine as a commodity increased together with the demand for it in the domestic and foreign markets. Armenian wine was commonly traded not only in major cities and small towns, where there were designated pubs, but also in roadside taverns along caravan routes.

According to medieval sources, as well as the results of archaeological studies, viticulture? and winemaking played an important role not only in rural, but also in urban economies. Various facilities for processing agricultural produce, including wine presses, belonged to reli¬gious as well as lay structures. There exist many historical references to wine presses within; monastic complexes. Major brotherhoods were among the biggest holders of vineyards and presses in various regions of the country. Wine was widely used in the rites of the Armenian Church.

Classic samples of medieval VII century wine presses were found in excavations at Zvartnots. They were situated at the Southeastern rim of a perimeter encircling the cathedral, the palace of the catholicos (religious leader) and the adjacent quarters, which indicates that the monastery had its own vineyards. Describing the founding of the cathedral of Zvartnots by Catholicos Nerses, Armenian historians Sebeos and Hovhannes Draskhanakertsi mention the planting of vineyards and flowerbeds. In two of the adjacent wine presses there are round pits laid out with polished stones and plastered with lime, meant for collecting must. The pits are located between the two basins for pressing wine, which have a smooth plastered surface with a certain incline towards the pits. Must flowed to the pits through grooves that were specially carved in stone. The existence of two basins per press attests to the high capacity and efficiency of the presses.

The combined capacity of pits in the wine presses of the Early Medieval complex of Zvartnots was 25 to 30 tons of must, which already means that the wine thus made was clearly intended as a commercial commodity.

In Haghbat, another famous monastic complex of Medieval Armenia (X - XIII centuries), there were 20 karases, holding 300 to 400 liters each, lined out along the perimeter of the cellar under the tiled floor.

Among the Armenian monuments of the XII - XIII centuries, the wine press of the monastery of Dadivank is significant. It is situated at the eastern part of the complex, in the lower level of one of the utility buildings and has two parts, the aragast and the maran. Both are fully equipped, are built of polished stone, are quite spacious and arched, and have tall narrow windows and wide entrances.

The wine press in Mren is of the same period, as determined by Toros Toramanian, a major historian of Armenian architecture. Grapes in this press were crushed by specially made, well-polished stonerollers. Must was removed from the aragast through several stone pipes, which had implements to separate particles from the juice. The separate maran was used to store Armenian wine.

Wine presses were also discovered during excavations of medieval Garni. In 1950 a two-section wine press was unearthed within the fortress. There is a lime plastered inclined aragast and a pretty large pit, also plastered inside. The second section is the maran, which contained the karases. Two big and two smaller pits were found in the maran, covered with stone lids. ] Another two similar wine presses were found alongside the fortress walls. Garni in the XIII - XVII centuries was a famous and prosperous town, with winemaking an important presence in its economy. Over a dozen wine presses discovered within current village limits prove this. Medieval wine presses were also discovered throughout Armenia in other old settlements: including Yeghvard, Arouch, Yerevan,  Ashtarak.

Archaeological excavations have revealed whole complexes of Armenian wine presses of the XII - XIV centuries in a territory of about 300 hectares close to the village of Ashnak on the Southeastern slope of mountain Aragats, where there were vineyards once. The presses were, built of regular stone blocks and were placed on individual fenced-off land parcels. Their footint is predominantly rectangular with rounded off corners. They are half-dug in the ground and have two sections. The stone used for masonry is basalt blocks of varying sizes and the entrance faces south. One section was inhabited; its floor was plastered with lime. There was a big pit in it laid out with basalt and plastered. The bottom of the pit had an indentation for collecting wine residue. The must flowed into the pit from the second section, the aragast, through a special opening. The smooth plastered floors of both sections are divided into two parts by a small bulge. The second section also has pits for initial fermentation of must.

One more remarkable complex of the X - XIV centuries wine presses was excavated in Ashtarak, in an area called Khojabagher. These wine presses are rectangular structures built with mud and lime mortar of medium-sized to large basalt blocks. One such press is 11 meters long and 10 meters wide and is divided into sections meant for different applications. The floor of the western part is somewhat higher than that of the eastern part. The aragast is under one of the longer walls; it has a well-plastered small pit in the center for initial separation of must. The second pit for must has a volume of cubic meter and two small indentations for pouring and removing must. There is an 8-meter long pipeline through which must flowed into the next section, the largest pit 3 meters deep and 1.7 meters in diameter.

The inhabited part of the press is divided from the rest of it by a low wall, where a clay hearth and a tonir (pit for baking bread) are preserved. The winepress also has a small section for tying in pack animals. The other wine press found in the Ashtarak excavations is simpler, although some of its fragments, the stairs leading onto the aragast, the stone anchor and the support of the pillar, enhance our understanding of the structure of a the Armenian wine press.

Khojabagher, covered with vineyards and a thick network of Armenian wine presses over the area of several hundred hectares, comes to reaffirm the prominence of Ashtarak in the Middle Ages, preserved to our days, as a powerful center of winemaking.